What Happens at a Wedding Rehearsal Dinner?

A wedding rehearsal dinner is, as the name suggests, a dinner that happens after the wedding rehearsal. The rehearsal dinner (and the wedding rehearsal itself) are most common in the U.S., but gaining popularity in the U.K., too.

The rehearsal dinner is usually a formal, sit-down, multiple-course meal - similar to the kind you’ll be having on your wedding day. It’s usually held the night before the wedding (though you can feel free to hold it earlier than this, if you’d prefer). Not every wedding guest attends the dinner – only those in the wedding party (bridesmaids, groomsmen, and parents of the newlyweds-to-be).

The guide below first details exactly what to expect at a wedding rehearsal dinner: everything from welcoming your guests to eating and toasting. We’ll also briefly cover a few key points on what wedding rehearsal dinners are, whether they’re needed, when they’re held and more.

Do You Need a Wedding Rehearsal Dinner?

Rehearsal dinners aren’t as popular in the U.K. as they are in the U.S. You may feel that it’s overkill to have two big dinners in quick succession. It’s also yet another bill that gets added to the pile, and since the rehearsal dinner isn’t the most important of traditions or preparations, you may be tempted to avoid holding one.

However, there are reasons you should consider a rehearsal dinner.

- It allows the families of the bride and groom to meet before the event. This helps relieve any tension there might be. Everyone can get to know each other and be comfortable around each other before the wedding itself.
- It gives you a chance to thank everyone who’s helped you with your wedding, such as your bridesmaids. The rehearsal dinner gives you a chance to present your wedding party with thank-you gifts (for example, jewellery that they can wear on the big day).
- Celebrations are fun. The rehearsal dinner has a more relaxed feel to it, and can serve as a mini-celebration all of its own. You’re getting married, so why not make the most of every opportunity to celebrate, and treat it as a pre-party?

But aside from that, there are only two questions you need to ask yourself: do you want a rehearsal dinner? And can you afford one? If the answer to both questions is yes, then have a little fun and throw one.

What to Expect at a Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

The first thing you should know is that your rehearsal dinner isn’t vitally important. If anything goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world—that’s what rehearsals are for, after all. So, don’t panic thinking you don’t know what to expect.

Unlike the wedding itself, your rehearsal dinner doesn’t have to be a strictly serious, formal event. You can make it as casual and laid-back as you like. The following guide is merely to explain how wedding rehearsal dinners are traditionally carried out- but as it’s your big day, you can do whatever you’re comfortable with.

When Should the Rehearsal Dinner Take Place?

The wedding rehearsal dinner is held immediately following the wedding rehearsal. This usually happens the evening before the wedding. However, it can be held up to a week before the big day, if you’d rather have more time before the rehearsal and the wedding itself.
In fact, this might be preferable – that way, if anything goes wrong at the rehearsal, you have more time to figure out how to fix it before the big event.

It’s best to hold the rehearsal and dinner soon before the wedding. Normally, wedding rehearsals and dinners are held in the evening, so that guests who have to work that day are able to attend. But if you’d prefer to hold it during the day, just make sure you send out invitations in plenty of time.
Holding it just before the wedding also means that you’re fully prepared, since you’ll remember everything from the night before. If you hypothetically held it six months in advance, you’d probably not be any more prepared than if you hadn’t bothered.

Where Is the Wedding Rehearsal Dinner Held?

As wedding rehearsal dinners are traditionally a formal, sit-down affair, they’re usually held somewhere ‘upscale’ (a bit like the wedding itself). For example: a fancy hotel, a hired ballroom, or a fine-dining restaurant. You could even hold it at your actual wedding venue!
That being said, it’s completely up to you where to host your rehearsal dinner – just as long as there’s food, of course.

This could mean:
• A casual or semi-casual restaurant (such as an Italian bistro, for example)
• A local pub that serves food
• The home or garden of one of your family members (such as the bride or groom’s parents)
• An outdoor location, such as a beach, or even a meadow (a wedding rehearsal picnic in the springtime could be fun!)
Ideally, try to match the ‘tone’ of the wedding rehearsal dinner to your wedding. For example, if you’re having a very formal, black-tie wedding, a chippy tea at the local tavern might not be appropriate. But conversely, if you’re having a laid-back wedding, the rehearsal dinner should be on the casual side, too.

What Do You Eat at a Rehearsal Dinner?

Standard wedding rehearsal dinners are sit-down, formal events (very much like a wedding breakfast). However, whether you stick to this tradition is totally up to you. Many couples choose to treat the rehearsal dinner as a slightly more casual, laid-back celebration, with less fine-dining fayre and more ‘comfort food’.

If you would like a formal dinner, it’s not a bad idea to hire the same caterer that you’re using for your wedding breakfast. You could even eat from the same menu you’re having on your wedding day – that way, if anything’s not right, you have time to amend your menu before your big day. Obviously, this won’t be possible if the rehearsal is very soon before the wedding - so if this is your plan, hold the rehearsal dinner at least a few days in advance.

However, it’s completely up to you. You can serve whatever kind of food you like - you can pick a set menu, or have your guests order their own food choices on the night itself. You could even have a help-yourself buffet, an afternoon tea, or a barbecue if that’s more your style!

What Happens At a Wedding Rehearsal Dinner?

The wedding rehearsal dinner takes place immediately following the rehearsal of the ceremony. If you’re not holding the dinner at your wedding venue, then everyone will have to travel to the restaurant (or wherever you’re all eating).
First off, everyone orders (if you’re not having a set menu) and eats their dinner. Next, it’s time for toasts. Traditionally, the toasts are made either just before dessert, during dessert, or after dessert. (Just don’t hold them before the dinner – everyone will be too hungry to pay attention!)
The first person/people to toast are whoever is hosting the rehearsal dinner (the groom’s parents, for example).

The bride and groom then toast their wedding party. This is a good time to thank everyone individually for how they’ve helped you in the run-up to your big day. You can also use this opportunity to distribute thank-you gifts (such as these cute bridesmaid bracelets).
Once everyone has finished dessert, the rehearsal dinner is over. The only thing left to do is get married!

Who Attends the Wedding Rehearsal Dinner?

You don’t need to invite every single guest to the rehearsal dinner. What’s far more common is for the rehearsal guest list to only include the bride, the groom, close family and the wedding party. These are the most important people – those that have a specific role to play on the wedding day, and have helped you with planning and organising the event. You should also expect to accommodate the partners and children of anybody in the above party.

Alternatively, you can invite most or even all of the guests on your full guest list. It’s becoming increasingly common for the rehearsal dinner to serve more as a welcome dinner, especially if you’re holding a destination wedding. Anybody who can attend—who’s already in town and has the time—can come. You have the choice of being as rigid or as loose with the order of the dinner as you like.
If you are planning on inviting extra guests, be sure to clear that fully with whoever is paying for it. You don’t want to tread on any toes.

Who Hosts the Wedding Rehearsal Dinner?

It’s traditional for the groom’s parents to pay for and host the rehearsal dinner. In fact, it’s one of the only expenses usually allocated to the groom’s side. This, historically, was a way of spreading the cost of the event - since it’s the bride’s parents that pay for most of the wedding itself.
But if you’re not a stickler for tradition, you can have somebody else pay for the rehearsal dinner instead. You can pay out of your own pocket, or have the bride’s parents pay. Or, you could split the cost evenly between both families. It’s up to you, but bear in mind that whoever’s paying for it should get a say in how the event is run. If you want things to be ‘just so’, it’s best to do it yourself.
Whoever pays for the rehearsal dinner should be the one that hosts it. That means it’s their job to greet and socialise with guests, hold a short thank-you speech, and introduce people on the day.
And of course, don’t forget: whoever’s hosting the event is also responsible for sending out wedding rehearsal dinner invitations. These are just as important as your wedding invitations themselves!

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